While the developed world wrestles with curbing carbon emissions from luxuries like personal automobiles and the multi-megawatt power plants that keep homes and offices at a comfortable 72 degrees, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is engineering an ambitious bottom-up approach to reduce emissions in the third world: providing cleaner cooking stoves. Clinton aims to introduce 100 million clean stoves to poor people the world over by 2020.
With two military entanglements cooking up trouble in volatile parts of the world, the threat of international terrorism omnipresent, and the budget stretched as thin as a busted economy can stretch it, it might seem like an unlikely time for worldwide kitchen renovations. But cooking smoke is a bigger threat than it seems. Aside from belching tons of black carbon into the atmosphere daily, cooking smoke produced in poorly ventilated areas is estimated to shorten the lives of 1.9 million people annually.
These stoves generally run on wood (or, worse, rubbish) and are the go-to source of heat and food preparation for some 3 billion people every single day. The constant exposure to smoke puts people – mostly women – at risk for lung diseases, eye disease, and cancer, as well as other less obvious but equally real risks; foraging for fuel presents a particular security risk to women in the third world, especially in unstable areas where rule of law is scarce.
Clean cook stoves would run on biomass, gas, or solar power. They employ chimneys and clean-burning technology where applicable, and they could significantly cut down on emissions of black carbon in the developing world, 20 percent of which comes from cooking. The impact of black carbon – pure carbon produced mostly by incomplete burning of fossil fuels – on climate change is debatable, but at the more alarmist end of things it's estimated to be half as harmful as CO2. It's particularly problematic in Asia, where wood-burning cook stoves are pervasive and other factors compound the problem.
Secretary Clinton's effort marks the first such effort to tackle the problem globally, though it aims to build off national programs already underway in places like Peru and India. And it's the kind of international aid that's hard to argue with – minimally expensive ($50 million from the U.S., which in the grand scheme of things is a pittance over five years), with the goal of helping hundreds of millions of people directly and pretty much everyone indirectly, through access to better technology.
Want to see what clean cooking tech looks like? We were singing its praises back in 2008. Check it out here.
Also they should pay women to get depo provera shot every 3 months so that they can stop being baby machine dependant on a man to pay for there 9 kids... that way they might have a chance to get out of poverty.
This is a well done article, a terrific solution to an ignored health hazard and it deserves more than just two comments. We used to ignore all the dust from construction and coal mining. The dust was lethal, and so is the carcinogenic soot and smoke from an open stove. The price is in the range of the poor because it only uses half as much wood and time gathering wood. Time that can be spent earning money or making food.
This goes along with the Pea-Poo bag on popsci, and the wet/dry toilet on Ted that separates safe sterile urine from dry composting poop.
I have my own idea of a recycled plastic bottle the ends cut off and the remaining cylinders can screw to one another. A lot of them can form long pipe that can slightly bend, free pipe and plumbing from garbage. To keep clean water clean and direct sewage to ponds instead of polluting the water down stream, and it will contain the smell. All it takes is a nifty screw fitting near the ends of molded plastic bottles.
Energy access is contraception. All of the industrial nations have lowering populations because they have access to energy and machinery to do work. All of them do. People in the third world produce children to do the work in order to live.
Not bad product. Even if the producers will get rich in the process. This proves that there are money to be made in helping the poor getting rich too :)
The only thing the initiative is missing is international involvement. Cleaning up our atmosphere is is everyone's responsibility! I'm not saying that we should expect those 3rd world countries to fork over 1 million, but we have quite a few South American, European, and Asian neighbors who could contribute a few mil (G8 or G20 for example), or for that matter they could match our portion. Several countries could trump our 50 mil over five years simply because they are in much better economic shape.
It's a good idea, but it shouldn't rest solely on US shoulders to foot the bill. If it benefits everybody then everybody should chip in something!
This is a noble cause but potentially misguided. I have traveled for many years to third world countries and seen some possible negative impacts from these stoves on the user's health. I have even lectured on this topic in bioengineering courses. Before I throw out the negatives, who would like to think awhile and see if youcan guess them?
Eye Doc if I play the roll of Sherlock the bioengineering in your comment is a hint. Therefore I would assume that the stoves don’t get hot enough to sterilize food, but cooked is cooked. The other problem could be smokeless carbon dioxide, giving a false sense of safety. It will still produce carbon that can be a danger in a confined space, especially if it is less noticeable.
The main draw back I have seen is related to insects. Imagine living in an area where malaria is endemic in an open hut. The smoke keeps the bugs out. I have been walking outside with mosquitos swarming all around me. As soon as I go inside the huts with the smoky fire, the bugs are gone. That is why in areas of the Amazon, they always leave smokey fires burning. In Honduras and El Salvadore, they store their corn in hamocks in the ceiling. Again the smoke keeps the bugs away. As soon as they get less smokey stoves, the bugs eat the corn, and they have to get storage bins for it. The only houses in which I have seen the beetle that spreads Chaga's disease are the ones with less smokey stoves.
Will they trade less incidence of smoke related diseases for a higher incidence of insect born ones? Who knows. I can not get anyone interested in doing an integrated safety study. I was told to don't tell the locals about the potential problems. If we distribute millions of these stoves and they do contribute to more insect born diseases and deaths, the US might be blamed for purposelly trying to kill off the poor people of the world. That could be great PR for certain groups.
Before we do a wide spread distribution, we need to do a safety study on unintended consequences from there use.
Thanks for you’re adding to the discussion. You have a point, but is it really smoky enough all the time to get rid of the insects? Plus that is a decision that the locals can very well make for themselves, and a discussion we must all take part in. For some regions the insects are not as lethal, but many places may put food at some risk. Again the people know their situation better then we every can. However, you are right to discus the problem and to expect the US to look at that data and evaluate the trade offs. Their way of life has lasted because it is brilliant it is proven to work. They will make good and balanced decisions. The option for more efficiency is one we all need. Can you say that we haven’t made dubious choices for progress in our own culture? Yet, America can produce twice as much food as our obese population will ever need.
From what I have seen an invisible amount of smoke keeps the bugs away. I am all for letting the locals make an informed decision. The key word is informed. In order to do that we must do an impact study on the stove implimentation in each area. As you pointed out, each area is unique. The local population has adapted and adopted behaviors to survive in their environment. It is dangerous to change these proven behaviors on a whim without weighing the consequences.
We have made mistakes. Key word we. I do not want to make the mistakes which increase the suffering of the people in these countries. Their life is hard enough. I have seen first hand the problems that occur when we introduce a project which fails. It is hard to win back their trust.
I’m both glad and concerned that you feel such a strong sense of responsibility. If the data shows a drop in health then the project should be halted, or more reasonably altered. Remember that these are highly intelligent people and will probably choose greater efficiency, and alter the danger. One way is to simply put some greenery to burn more smoke, but still less wood, less carbon and less work. Odds are they will do so on their own just to be more comfortable. My safety concern is that you may unintentionally feed an argument of us verses them. There are deep dangers from the out side, but the locals are responsible to mitigate it. They ultimately live with the outcome. My point is they are adults and will make the decision for themselves, and will easily solve most of the problems they face. They will surprise you, but carefully inform them of their responsibility. We in the developed world face change all the time fail and adjust all the time. Just look at all the prescription, and the long term problems that develop from them.
It is all good and fine to come up with solutions to air pollution and in lowering Al Gore's demon CO2 and climate change but don't expect citizens to truly believe some of the hype when people out west witness regular "prescribed burnings" in the forest to prevent future forest fires or stop insects spreading when they could ...granted for a higher cost....use other methods that don't do so much obvious polluting and carbon-adding processes. Even a dunce can see prescribed burnings of forests cause a thousands times more damage than individual citizens could do unless they start a wildfire. Cut-down trees suck in moisture and are hard to burn if left on the ground but they can be harvested for lumber. They can shred all the branches easily making better forest soils. There are many better solutions better than burning giant swaths of forest.
I live in Maine, and I have been traveling to the mountains of Guatemala, often with a number of volunteers, to build vented, clean burning brick cookstoves in the mountains of Guatemala for the past 12 years.
From where most of us are sitting, it is difficult to actually envision the conditions in a smoke filled dwelling from the use of open fires.
The first time I stepped into a dark dwelling in Guate my eyes started to burn and tear up, and I tasted it in my throat for hours. Sunbeams pierced the ceiling and walls, showing the swirl of the smoke, and dotting the floor with what looked like coins. The walls and ceilings are black and sticky with creosote, and smells very bad even when the fire is out.
The damage that these open fires cause is truely unbeliveable. Women go BLIND from daily exposure to hot smoke to their eyes, their faces drawn, eyes swollen and red and teary 24 hours a day!!!
Babies on moms back breathe the same smoke, and it will stunt that babies lungs for a lifetime. Ditto the older children hanging with mom by the fire.
Children playing indoors fall into the open fires and suffer horrible and disfiguring burns.
The entire family suffer constant lung infections.
Wood smoke is toxic, with a real witches brew of poison gasses. Peoples whole bodies are actually being poisoned by breathing wood smoke, not just the lungs.
For these cookstove projects to work stoves need to be built that the people want to use. The cookie cutter approach does not work. Every countries culture and history is different.
When we travel about the villages where we work, we very often have a trail of women begging us to build their family an estufa too.
It is an interesting point to consider about the insects and disease theory though.